This case was heard in the New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench (Trial Division).
In 1988, Mr. Woodworth sought permission to repair an existing dam structure on his property, which bordered New Horton Lake in Albert County, New Brunswick. Although it later came to light that the dam had not been in use for more than twenty years, that information was not communicated to the Regional Environmental Inspector at the time. Mr. Woodworth was informed that he did not need a permit to repair the dam, and he soon carried out the work. As a result, the level of New Horton Lake rose by roughly six feet.
In 1993, New Brunswick’s Minister of the Environment issued a Ministerial Order stating that Mr. Woodworth had violated the Clean Water Act by failing to obtain a permit before altering or diverting all or part of a watercourse. The Ministerial Order ordered Mr. Woodworth to take steps to lower the lake to its original level. Mr. Woodworth appealed the Ministerial Order, explaining that he had been informed that he did not need a permit to undertake the work. When the Minister dismissed his appeal, Mr. Woodworth applied for judicial review of the Minister’s decision.
The Court held that although it was reasonable for Mr. Woodworth to believe that he had fulfilled his legal responsibilities, and although the Department of the Environment had erred in informing him that he did not need a permit to carry out the work, the Minister had the authority to make the Order she had issued. The Department of the Environment did not have the authority to authorize unlawful activities, and so the developments on Mr. Woodworth’s property had been carried out without the proper authority. The Court held, however, that the Minister had denied Mr. Woodworth procedural fairness by not giving him an opportunity to apply retroactively for a permit once the error had come to light. The Court therefore quashed the Ministerial Order and subsequent Decision on the appeal, without limiting the Minister's ability to issue another such Order if Mr. Woodworth’s application for a permit were denied.